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Apologetic Moments #23: Was Jesus the Messiah?

by Thor Ramsey

(I haven't fully attributed the various sources used in this article yet, but hope to get around to that.)

Both inside the church and outside of the church there are so many bizarre and unbiblical ideas of what faith is that we could spend an entire sermon just dissecting and refuting those. But one of the false ideas that persists in our culture is this idea that faith is purely subjective, that faith is about how you feel about something. It’s the idea that you can’t be certain of something, so you have faith. As if faith is just a kind of wishful thinking. “Just have faith… in spite of the evidence,” rather than because of it.

Theologian Don Carson confronts this false idea of faith head-on when he writes: “In the Bible, faith is intimately connected with truth. The Bible never asks you to believe or trust what is not true or trustworthy. Indeed, in the Bible one of the most commonest means of strengthening faith is by articulating and defending the truth.”

The church exists because of truth. The body of Christ, the church, exists because God entered into this world in the Person of Jesus Christ, which is what we celebrate during the Christmas season. Jesus Christ, both fully God and fully man united in one unique Person. That mystery is the hope we have as Christians.

Is this just conjecture? Is it a hunch? Is it my feeling? Only my opinion? Or is this a claim that can be examined and verified with a high degree of certainty? Is it something any honest person can look into and trust? And any honest person would look into it.

Yes, there are people who are dishonest with themselves. In the depths of their hearts, they don’t want it to be true. But the point is, for honest seekers, God has substantiated His gospel with prophecy, a foretelling of the future concerning the Messiah — a foretelling that we can now examine.

Through the manuscript evidence, we know when a prophecy was written. We have the historical facts and we know that its fulfillment came many hundreds of years after it was foretold. These are things that can be examined and verified. And they are simply incredible when you do examine them.

All the books of the Old Testament are in one way or another messianic. They all point to this messianic figure. Jesus Himself said as much:

John 5:45-46

45 Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me.

What Jesus is saying is that if you believe the Old Testament, then you will believe that He is the Messiah. And He’s saying, “Don’t just take My word for it — that I’m the Messiah — take Moses’s word for it. But the reason you don’t take My word for it is that you don’t really take his word for it.”

One biblical scholar put it this way: “In giving us messianic prophecy, God had intervened in a real way in human history.” And that’s exactly what we find when we examine the Old Testament prophets — the God of all creation has unmistakably spoken to the entire human race.

This is the type of prophecy we’re going to be looking at in our Christmas series — messianic prophecy, with this question in mind: What did the Old Testament prophets say the Messiah would be like? What kind of person did they say He would he be and what did they say He would he do?

Now, as Christians we believe that the New Testament is the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises. Therefore, we believe the New Testament, as a greater revelation, shines light on the Old Testament to help us understand it more fully. With that in mind, listen to what the Apostle Peter wrote about the Old Testament prophets:

1 Peter 1:10-12

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully,

Concerning what salvation? This salvation. The salvation presented in this compilation of books we call the Bible. The salvation of the ancient historic Christian faith. It’s not a salvation that evolves along with us. It’s not a salvation that needs to keep up with the times. It’s a salvation that applies to all people at all times in all generations. It is this salvation found in the gospel of this book, which foretells about Jesus Christ from beginning to end. That’s the unique prophetic nature of Christianity. And it’s still foretelling about Jesus Christ, because it also foretells that He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

So, Peter is saying these Old Testament prophets wrote about grace that was to be yours, what John Piper calls future grace. While the salvation God has provided is grounded solidly in past events, the grace that flows from the historic death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is also a grace that is future grace for those who don’t yet know Christ.

And it’s a future grace for you too. You’re going to need encouragement and reassurance tomorrow. You’re going to need the grace the gospel provides tomorrow. You need hope.

You need future grace, so we’re going to build up your faith by looking at the facts of these prophecies and about what they say the messiah would be like and what He would do.

Now, the prophets understood they were foretelling about someone unique. They also understood that what they were saying would only be realized in future generations.

1 Peter 1:11-12

11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.

They were foretelling about a person and the time in which this person would live. Peter is claiming that this person predicted by the Old Testament prophets is Jesus Christ, because the person they foretold about would suffer and then be glorified.

But what else did they predict about Him? What makes it clear that Jesus Christ is the Messiah they predicted? Did these prophets understand what they were saying?

12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you,

So, they knew what they were saying was for future generations.

in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.

That’s amazing. These prophets knew they were giving you prophecies to look into, things even the angels longed to look into. That’s how amazing this salvation is!

Imagine that you could go back in time and witness the angels appearing to the shepherds, that you could witness the scene of Mary and Joseph looking for a place to spend the night. That’s the kind of anticipation the prophets experienced. They knew what was coming, they put together the movie trailer, so to speak, but they knew they wouldn’t see the final picture.

And both the Old Testament and the New Testament challenge us to examine these things, as the Gospel of Matthew tells us.

Matthew 1:18-25

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.

Now, the author of this gospel (tradition has the author as Matthew, one of the disciples of Jesus) tells us this because these are not only facts that could be examined then for accuracy, but they can be examined now for accuracy. That’s why he’s telling us the birth of Christ took place in this way.

Now, with that long introduction, let’s go back to the biblical writings (the Hebrew Bible), all these writings that historically date before Jesus Christ was born.

We’re going to look at four things the Old Testament prophets foretold about what the Messiah would be like.

Now, why is that significant? The reason that what these prophets said about what the Messiah would be like is significant is because Jesus Christ is the only Person in the history of the world who matches their descriptions perfectly.

 

What does King David's prophetic psalm about the Messiah tell us about what the Messiah would be like?

Psalm 2:1-2

1 Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?

2 The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,

Let’s begin speaking about the Messiah here, because the word Messiah is the word used here — Anointed. The Messiah is a specific person who will be anointed by God in a specific way for a specific task. Anointed means to be set apart for the service of God. In other words…

1. The Messiah will be a consecrated individual.

And the Messiah’s consecration would be unique compared to the anointing of other kings and priests and prophets God had used in the past.

Just listen to how King David describes the uniqueness of the Anointed in the rest of this Psalm, written around 1044 B.C. (So, this was written over a thousand years before Jesus was born. That’s just a fact.)

Psalm 2:3

3 “Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.”

In other words, they were saying, “Let’s break away from all their influence over us.” So, these kings and rulers really show us the nature of human sin by setting themselves up against God as if they could overcome the Almighty.

Pastor John Snyder puts it this way: “Sin is, at its hearts, taking the perfections of God and attributing them to yourself. Sin is saying that you, not God, are uniquely raised above all others. Your desires, your claims, your rights, your preferences — these are all, higher than those of others, even God’s!”

This is the demonic nature of sin. Now, to say that sin has a demonic nature doesn't mean that everyone who sins is demon possessed. It simply means the very thinking of human sin aligns itself with how demons think and operate, putting themselves above God in their minds. In other words, thinking you're the center of the universe is exactly how demons think.

Isaiah 14:14 (ESV)

14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.’

A simple reason some people do not want truth to be clear and certain is because it frees them from the obligation of following the truth. This is the prevailing mindset of our culture today, sadly even within minds of many professing Christians.

But for those of us who stand on the inspiration, infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture, we must remember:

Psalm 2:4-7

4 He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.

5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,

6 “As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.”

7 I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.

Let’s pause for a moment and clearly define begotten. Many of you are probably familiar with the KJV of John 3:16 that reads:

John 3:16 (KJV)

16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Here’s a good example of why everyone’s interpretation of the Bible is not equal, meaning this — some people’s interpretations are more valid than others. So, the charge of “that’s just your interpretation” is never a valid charge for those who are biblically thoughtful.

This verse has been used by some (such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses) to argue that Jesus is not equal to God, because He is begotten. This is why it’s important to know church history, because the JW’s are just repeating an error that has already been dealt with in church history. Their view of Jesus was declared heretical in 325 at the Council of Nicaea. It’s called Arianism after the false teacher Arius.

The issue is always interpreting Scripture in light of the rest of Scripture, so let’s look at another verse that uses the word begotten.

John 1:18 (NASB)

18 No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.

The only begotten God of this verse is Jesus Christ. So, this verse itself teaches that Jesus Christ is God. It also teaches that Jesus, though God, is distinct from God the Father, because the only begotten God, Jesus, cannot be in the bosom of God the Father unless they are distinct Persons.

Now, the questions is — is Jesus a lesser God than God the Father? Well, again, that can’t be the case in light of the Bible’s claim that God is one and there is no one else like Him. God is incomparable — He cannot satisfactorily be compared to anything in His creation.

Isaiah 40:25 (NASB)

25 “To whom then will you liken Me
That I would be his equal?” says the Holy One.

This means Jesus can’t be a lesser god than God the Father. And He can’t be a separate God, because there is only One God. But John wrote that Jesus is the only begotten God.

Let’s pause here and briefly go over the doctrine of the Trinity, because that’s where this is leading. This is how systematic theology is done. You examine what a verse can or can’t mean in light of the rest of the Bible’s teaching on that subject.

The word Trinity is simply theological shorthand for what the Bible teaches about the nature of God, that God is one God who is three distinct persons, equal in substance and nature, but One God, not three. Each Person of the Trinity is fully God, but there is only one God — One God who is three Persons, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, co-eternal, co-equal.

Here’s a short explanation as to why the early church fathers came to this conclusion based upon the teachings of the Bible. Since the Father sent the Son into the world (John 3:16), he cannot be the same person as the Son. Likewise, after the Son returned to the Father (John 16:10), the Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit into the world (John 14:26; Acts 2:33). Therefore, the Holy Spirit must be distinct from the Father and the Son.

How is God one? He is one in essence. How is God three? He is three in Person. Essence and person are not the same thing. God is one in a certain way (essence) and three in a different way (person). Since God is one in a different way than he is three, the Trinity is not a contradiction. There would only be a contradiction if we said that God is three in the same way that he is one.

Now, I gave that short little explanation of the Trinity simply because I shouldn’t assume anything about what you do or don’t understand about the Christian faith as revealed in the Bible.

And also because our language even as Christians is often sloppy when we discuss God. In casual conversation about God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit we might say, “Well, they’re all the same.” No, they’re not. One God, three distinct Persons.

In Psalm 2, the context is about the installation of a king. The term "begotten" in Psalm 2 refers to a coronation. The figure in Psalm 2 is already a grown man when he is declared the son and begotten. This alone tells us that begotten does not mean created.

Here’s what the Greek word means in the passages in the Gospel of John: “pertaining to being the only one of its kind or class, unique in kind.”

So, begotten simply means the only one of its kind. Jesus is the only Second Person of the Trinity and thus is completely unique, one of a kind. This is why some translations say, “God sent his one and only Son into the world.”

Then in Psalm 2, God says to this Anointed One:

Psalm 2:8-12

8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.

So, this installed King is going to have a rule that is worldwide. There hasn’t been a king in the history of the world whose reign was over the entire earth. But when Jesus began His public ministry and said, “Repent, the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” He was declaring that His rule and reign had begun. Not it’s fully realized at present, but God’s rule and reign in this world has begun and will culminate with the return of Christ.

9 You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.”

10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.

11 Serve the Lord with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.

12 Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

Again, for all to take refuge in him, this King would have to have a reign that is worldwide. What King in history ruled the entire world? Well, Christ the King rules world with truth and grace. At present, He doesn’t rule the way earthly leaders do. He rules with truth and grace.

But the Old Testament prophets get even more specific about this messianic king…

2. The Messiah will be a King from the line of David (the lineage or ancestry of David).

When Jacob is giving out blessings to his sons from whom all the tribes of Israel are descended and named, he said this of the tribe of Judah, the tribe that King David comes from…

Genesis 49:10

10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.

So, someone from the tribe of Judah will always rule God’s people.

Isaiah chapter 9 also tells us about this messianic king who descends from the line of David.

Isaiah 9:6-7

6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

7 Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Through this messianic king from the line of David, God is going to establish an eternal kingdom that upholds justice and righteousness.

So, this messianic figure is a consecrated King from the line of David. What else did the prophets tell us about Him?

3. The Messiah will be the Servant of the Lord.

It was foretold that this Servant of the Lord would accomplish several things:

  • Bring justice to the nations (Is. 42:1) 
  • Restore Israel to the Lord (Is. 49:5-6) 
  • Serve God despite a violent attack against Him (Is. 50:6-7) 
  • Have an everlasting covenant (Is. 55:3) 

Isaiah 49:5-6 (ESV)

5 And now the Lord says,
he who formed me from the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him;
and that Israel might be gathered to him—
for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord,
and my God has become my strength—

6 he says:
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

So, this anointed servant of God would be a light to the nations. But this servant’s ultimate work would be to provide a substitutionary sacrifice to pay for the sins of Israel.

4. The Messiah will be a redeemer from sin.

Isaiah is one of the most impressive prophetic books in the entire Bible. The facts about Isaiah are these: it was written 700 years before Jesus was born, 500 years before crucifixion was instituted as a form of capital punishment. That's when the book dates historically.

But someone might object, "But you don't have any existing manuscripts that are that old, do you?"

No, we don't, but here's what we do have. We have the Septuagint, which is a Greek copy of the Old Testament. And we have a full copy of the Septuagint that dates 200 years before Jesus Christ was born, so there's just no getting around the solid evidence that this was written before the birth of Christ.

Dr. Michael Rydelnik, professor of Jewish Studies and Bible at the Moody Bible Institute, did a survey of nonbelievers regarding Isaiah chapter 53. In the survey, after reading the entire chapter they answered two questions: Who is this about? And is it from the Old Testament or the New Testament? The vast majority of respondents said, "This is about Jesus, so it's clearly from the New Testament."

Of course it's not the New Testament, though we would argue that it is clearly written about Jesus Christ. It just happened to be written 700 years before His birth.

Isaiah 53:4-6

4 Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.

5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.

6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

Dr. Rydelnik sums it up nicely when he writes, “The Messiah is the eschatological, royal, Servant of the Lord, springing from the Davidic dynasty, who is consecrated by God to provide redemption from sin, bring deliverance for Israel, rule the world, and establish a kingdom of peace, justice and righteousness.”

What does all this mean for the Christian today? Well, it means you can trust God. He shows Himself to be completely trustworthy, which means we can do the hard things. God is always greater than our thoughts of Him.

What does this mean for the unbeliever? Well, basically it means the same thing with the simple caveat that radical skepticism will never be an acceptable excuse for not believing. The evidence that God has spoken to us and is speaking to us is too overwhelming to dismiss. So, when you dismiss it, it is on the grounds of something other than the trustworthiness of the documents. You’re not really rejecting Christ because the message is untrustworthy. You have other reasons you’re rejecting Christ. And whatever they are — they’re simply not good reasons. But only you know deep down inside, the real reason.

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